Nat Illumine

Nat Illumine is an established writer and former Chief Editor of the infamous Undercover Magazine. She has interviewed some of the very best in the game and flown the flag in support of British talent for many years. She is very much woven into the fabric of the British music scene as a resident DJ on Itch FM, combined with her popular monthly warm up residency, entitled “Size Doesn’t Matter” at Ginglik in Shepherds Bush. I sat down with Nat to find out what she’s been up to.

Kwaku: You are the founder and CEO of the infamous Hip Hop Magazine, Undercover. Why did you choose to focus on a Hip Hop Magazine?
Nat: It’s that whole ‘when did you fall in love with Hip Hop?’ type thing. I was about 15, 16 yrs old and I just totally fell in love with Hip Hop as a music form, movement, and culture. I just really got involved. I have always loved writing since I was a kid; it was just something that I did. I had really cool teachers who I must give props to because they allowed me to do a lot of exploration during my ‘A’ Levels. I remember the first interview I conducted was with Roots Manuva, and then Kool DJ Herc, whose cousin is my friend Asif, who hooked it up. During my media dissertation, which was based on the ‘Commercial Viability of UK Hip Hop’, I interviewed Blade, Will Ashon from Big Dada, Lewis Parker, Roots Manuva, Profound etc. This is what got me tuned into music journalism.
Kwaku: Apart from Hip Hop, where do you get your musical influences?
Nat IllumineNat: Mainly Soul, Jazz, Funk, right through to Hip Hop and I absolutely love Reggae. I am really feeling old Soul music, people like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, I am so on that right now. I really don’t like Rock, I don’t like Trance music or Techno – I’m not really into that ravey shit, No rave music over here please. I do love Jungle still, though.
Kwaku: There have been a lot of rumours that Undercover Magazine is going to be re-launched, so as former Chief Editor I guess the best person to lay this to rest would be you?
Nat: We did have hopes of re-launching it again, but unfortunately the people that we got involved with seemed to be stringing us along and never actually made it happen.
In some respects I’m glad that it never happened because I don’t want it to be tarnished because we finished on a high! We ran for four years, which isn’t bad for an independent magazine. We captured some of the best times in Hip Hop in this country and we got to help a lot of people get that much needed exposure.
Personally I’m just enjoying not having to work my ass off and literally kill myself to get the magazine out each month, as I hardly got any rest and as Editor everything rests on you. Remember, I was only 20 at the time and had no business experience at all. I’m glad it happened, I have no regrets and I have to show my love for everyone who got involved. But right about now I am enjoying just having a break from it all.
Kwaku: What are your thoughts on the current state of Hip Hop?
Nat: I’m kind of taking a break from Hip Hop, I got a bit sick of it all, when you work, live, sleep, eat, breathe Hip Hop it gets to the point when you’re like ok… I needed breathing space, distance, to take a step back.
As for the scene at the moment, it’s doing its thing, some people are making money, most people aren’t, same ole same ole really. People need to just keep doing what they’re doing.
Kwaku: Do you feel that mainstream Hip Hop has helped or hindered the music?
Nat: Well I have to say that the majority of American Hip Hop is atrocious. I just don’t listen to most of it – the stuff that you hear on radio, on Hot 97 or whatever in New York, it just really impinges on my soul!
Kwaku: So would you say mainstream Hip Hop is killing the music?
Nat: Well, no. I kind of feel like in order to have really good underground music you have to have really shit music on the other side. It’s like an opposite spectrum: in order to have one you need to have the other. I mean my friend Kenny and I have had countless debates about this; like, ‘if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?’ I mean it’s great if you are in your bedroom making Hip Hop, but if no one can hear it what’s the point. Not to say don’t make it, but you have to find a way to get it heard.
It’s about connecting globally. Ultimately music is music, there’s always going to be terrible music and there’s always going to be really good music. Whatever point in history you choose to look at it, we have always had periods where people felt a particular way about the music of their time. So it’s not going to be different for contemporary music. There’s always going to be quality – you just really have to look for it.
Kwaku: What are your thoughts on British artists who replicate American music, and does it matter?
Nat IllumineNat: Well yeah, you know it’s tired, it’s boring and it’s just not what it’s all about. The music is so global right about now, there are people making Hip Hop from all over the world and you are not going to stand out if you sound like you’re from the Bronx and you’re from Hackney (Laugh)!! Ya know, you’re just going to be some dude in England sounding like you’re from the Bronx and that don’t wash. I interviewed Ty the other day and he said it’s all about identity, like who are you? And I couldn’t agree with him more – we like the people we like because there is something about their identity that is particular to that person. So if you copy someone else, then what is it about you that is going to get us interested in you?
Kwaku: You have started Deejaying. What type of music do you play?
Nat: Oh My God!! Hahaha!! Ok, first up I am not a DJ, I do not claim to be a DJ because I have no skills, I can’t mix, I can’t scratch, so I’m not even in that field. But what I do do is play music on the radio [Itch FM] and occasionally in the clubs.
I feel more like a radio presenter, I mean, I get on air, I talk and I play the tunes. I try to update people where the tracks are from, who did it and where they can get hold of it.

Kwaku: Is this something you always wanted to do or this something that grew on you?

Nat: Actually deejaying? I never wanted to do it (Laugh). You see I grew up with deejays, I have a sound system background and my best friend, is a deejay, who I had a sound system with, so I had access to whatever records I wanted him to play to me and I would be with all my girls on the dance floor doing what we do best which was having a dance and a good time! So there was no need for me to be a DJ, because I was surrounded by deejays. Me deejaying really kicked off at carnival. It was with Ed [Intawarrior] and Max [Macanudo] and we were on our sound system at Notting Hill carnival. I was standing there handing them reggae tunes to play and suddenly they disappeared!!! I’ve got all these elders looking at me saying ‘yeah, man the reggae is wicked!! (Laugh) and I’m like ‘fuck!!! All right, I need to put on a record. I was blending the records and the elders were like ‘yeah the selection is wicked man’ (Laugh). But all in all, it was a great night, everyone enjoyed themselves, and it was from this point I decided to take it further.

I then started getting into 7 inches big time, which then progressed to a resident spot at Size Doesn’t Matter that takes place every third Friday of the month at Ginglik in Shepherds Bush. It’s called Size Doesn’t Matter because it’s 7 inches only, and it’s hosted by myself, Mr Shiver [Unsung Heroes], Simon Kurrage, DJ Thor and Michael Mastomic and I’ve know them for like 10 years, so it’s loads of fun. I’m not really doing this for money, it’s just for the love of tunes.

Kwaku: Name three important figures that you feel have made changes to the world and inspired you?

Nat IllumineNat: Oh WOW! That’s a big one, well straight off the bat, I’ve got to say Frederick Douglass, I mean I have never read a book that’s so incredible as “My Bond and my Freedom”, you know I don’t really need to go into the history of the man, I mean everyone really should know and if you don’t know get to know.

It’s just the fact that in the 1800s in America white people deemed black people unable to read or unable to handle education and basically unable to comprehend on the same level, which is just ridiculous – the whole fucking concept, and then for him to just write a book that was pretty much better than anything any of them could write themselves, not to mention run a newspaper for seven years. For me, if anyone changed the world we live in, he did. I really read up on the civil war, I find it an interesting part of American history.

Musically, I guess Sam Cooke, I think he created soul music and I think without soul music we wouldn’t have any of our music, and it’s so sad he died before his time.

As for a third person who changed the world…. I might have to come back to you on that one.

Oh – Guru, and Common. They changed my world with certain lyrics at times in my young life when I really needed them!

Kwaku: America seems to be a second home for you at the moment. What are the musical and cultural differences you see between the UK and America?

Nat: I feel that the UK is a lot more innovative at the moment and the music seems a lot more suitable for the lifestyles that we are living. America is very arrogant, I mean artists in America don’t really consider just who might be listening or who they could be affecting. But, in terms of their worldview, they generally don’t seem interested as to what takes place outside of America, which is a shame. But with that said, that is a big generalisation and with respect to most underground American artists that make music, they are very open-minded. Which is why the music is the way it is, hence it’s very difficult for Americans to buy into British Hip Hop. Except perhaps with artists like Dizzie Rascal, who has something different to offer America. He does make Grime, but that to me is Hip Hop, just a UK variation of it. He makes noise out there, but in terms of the UK making a serious impact it’s never going to happen. To put it bluntly: England’s really small and America’s massive and that’s just the way it is.

Kwaku: What are your views on people being held at Guantanamo Bay?

Nat: The way I kind of see it is that there is a lot of stuff going on in this world that we just don’t know about. I mean real fucked up shit in countries that we just don’t know about, and Guantanamo Bay is an extension of that.

Kwaku: Are you for or against Capital Punishment and do you think it should be reinstated?

Nat: Capital Punishment, absolutely not, no fucking way. Why? Because the courts are fallible and people were dying that had absolutely nothing to do with the crimes. No, It is just obvious, NO.

Kwaku: Now that your name has been carved in UK Hip Hop history as a pioneering female within the fabric of the industry, what advice would you have for anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Nat: Thanks for the compliment. You just have to be you, that is the best advice I could really give to anyone. You just have to get involved; it’s all about participation. If you’re not going to be an artist, i.e. rapper, break dancer, beat boxer, graffiti artist or DJ, then find something else, be of use, try and make changes. Don’t bullshit, don’t lick ass, don’t act like a chief (laugh), just represent yourself in a respectable manner is what I’ve learnt. Big up to all the girls that are involved and nuff respect goes out to them.

Written by: Kwaku

Nat Illumine

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